Tools of the Imagination

Tools of the Imagination – Ultraman

Ambition does not always equal success
DreamWorks toys, Ultraman: Towards The Future toyline, 1992

It seems fitting to transition from Superhuman Samurai Syber-Squad to Ultraman: Towards the Future.  Both were westernized versions of Ultraman (or Ultraman-inspired).  Unfortunately, in many ways, Servo and his buddies were able to learn from the failures of this toyline, for they were many.

In the early 1990s, Tsuburaya Productions would partner with the South Australian Film Corporation to produce the first foreign-made Ultraman series.  13 Episodes of this very ambitious western-adaptation of the Ultrman story were produced, with a second season discussed by never produced.  The series followed astronaut Jack Shindo as part of the Universal Multi-Purpose Agency (or UMA) in fighting off giant monsters with the help of Ultraman.  Each story had a strong ecological undercurrent, as environmentalism had come to the forefront in the 1990s.

The show would never really catch on.  It would often get buried on the pre-cable early-morning Saturday schedule in most territories and the toys were frightful.  Though a rare example of a toyline that had more bad guy figures than good guy figures, it still ended up making just about every mistake a toyline can make.  As demonstrated below, most of the figures could barely move and the line was never fully released, which is almost always a hallmark of an unsuccessful toy line.


Appearance – 4 out of 5
Pretty much the only thing this toy has going for it is that it looks like the character in the show.  Given the mask and lack of facial features, not to mention the solid colors, that doesn’t seem that hard to accomplish, but at least the toy looks the part.

Construction – 2 out of 5
The plastic used to make the toy is pretty sturdy, but it’s hollow.  The joints are pretty rugged, but if a limp pops off its joint, it won’t be returning without tremendous force, almost guaranteeing the toy breaks.

Movement – 1 out of 5
This toy isn’t a statue, but it’s pretty close.  It has five joints: neck, shoulders, and hips (what appears to be a waist joint in the picture does not actually move).  The hips do not rotate easily or smoothly, in many ways invalidating them as functional joints.  The shoulders rotate along one axis only, much like the head does.  The figure is almost completely incapable of any real movement.
This isn’t even the worst of the problems, which are primarily the figure’s feet.  The tiny, awkward feet render the figure very unsteady and likely to fall over with the slightest push or even the subtlest breeze.

Extras – 3 out of 5
Ultraman comes with a miniature Jack Shindo figure, complete with stun gun.  While the figure does not look bad, he is very generic and is too small to fit in with other toy lines (he’s just under 3 inches, making him noticeably smaller than GI Joes).  The figure is also not to scale with Ultraman, which isn’t a dealbreaker but is worth noting.

Packaging – 2 out of 5
The packaging was adequate, even a little distinctive.  It had a purple and green color scheme exterior with an orange interior and clear plastic wrapping to allow seeing into the box (and see the figure).  The problem with the packaging, however, was it seemed to be made independent of the show.  The explanation of who Ultraman is, what he does, and the plot of the show was grossly misrepresented, making the figure sound more like Voltron, like some planet-hopping space hero.  The inclusion of toys that were never released (namely the Saltop Jeep), the exclusion of toys that were available (a cheap playset), and the omission of the main villain (Goudes), all undermined the already mediocre packaging.


Overall – 1 out of 5
As much as I love Ultraman, this figure is awful.  It’s barely an action figure and more a cheap statue.  While the TV show that inspired it was ambitious, this toy really fell short.  Even the other toys in the line – monsters that Ultraman fights – were more interesting just by virtue of at least having more texture to them.  But as the main (and only) protagonist in the toyline, this figure had an obligation to be the best and he fell short in almost every regard.

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